According to the Lake Roland Nature Council (LRNC), park attendance has skyrocketed in the last decade— in the early 2000s, approximately 40,000 people visited the park each year, compared to nearly 450,000 people per year in 2018. Despite LRNC’s tremendously hard work to increase access to the park, there are a variety of factors that make Lake Roland tricky to access for park-goers, and these problems will only increase should park attendance continue to climb at its current rate. Here, we will explore the ways the park has attempted to improve parking and safety to accommodate the influx of visitors, problems that continue to exist and how these problems may be rectified through thoughtful development.
A Brief History of Accessibility Improvements to Lake Roland Park
After oversight of Lake Roland Park passed from Baltimore City to Baltimore County in 2009, and with the help of state and county grant funds, a series of significant improvements were made to the park’s infrastructure, many of which sought to improve the issue of accessibility. By the time the park reopened in 2011, the bridge leading into the park from the main entrance was replaced, and a pedestrian boardwalk was created to allow pedestrians access to the park from the MTA parking lot. While these and other changes made to the park at the time were highly beneficial, certain challenges still exist.
Challenges That Impede Accessibility to Lake Roland Park
There are several challenges park-goers face when parking at or around Lake Roland Park that make accessing the park difficult or dangerous. The parking lot on Lakeside Drive, while safer than other parking options, is small, making it unable to accommodate the majority of Lake Roland park-goers on average or above average capacity days for the park. The MTA parking lot at the end of the boardwalk access point provides a larger amount of paved parking, however this space is shared with community members who are accessing the Light Rail.
There are also several makeshift parking and access point options that park-goers utilize that prove hazardous to park-goers and community members alike. One such location is the Greenspring Branch Entrance, which is located on Falls Road northwest of Lake Roland in between Ruxton Road and Old Pimlico Road. While a popular access point for the park’s Red Trail , there is no formal parking in the area, and park-goers currently park alongside Falls Road. The Greenspring Branch Entrance lies at the conclusion of a sharp curve in Falls Road, and it is directly on this curve where the majority of park-goers utilizing this access point are currently forced to park.
As the main thoroughfare through the Bare Hills community, Falls Road is a busy street that sees a high volume of traffic throughout the day, particularly during rush hour. Park-goers who are forced to park along Falls Road run the risk of injury to themselves, their vehicles or other property, their pets and their families. They also pose a hazard to community members driving on Falls Road. This hazard is compounded by the fact that there are a multitude of unsignalized access points into the park, which increases congestion and the level of hazard for community members traversing Falls Road.
It is clear that many of the accessibility challenges for the park go beyond mere inconvenience, as several of these challenges pose a fundamental threat to the safety and well-being of park-goers and the community at large as they travel around and through the Bare Hills community. The question is, how can these challenges be mitigated or even rectified in order to ensure Lake Roland Park can be visited in both a convenient and safe manner?
How Thoughtful Development Can Help Mitigate Some of These Challenges
One of the many goals the Bluestem development team had in mind when creating the plans for the multi-use space was to ensure that the development would not place an unmanageable burden on the local traffic patterns and help to mitigate some of the parking, safety and accessibility concerns the park currently faces. It was only after Vanguard commissioned a feasibility plan for Bluestem to ensure the development’s impact would not overwhelm surrounding infrastructure that they then commissioned a full traffic impact study, the results of which indicated that Bluestem would meet or exceed county regulations.
After completing this preemptive planning, the Bluestem team committed to several developmental additions that would enhance accessibility and safety for park-goers. All driveable access points to the park will now be controlled by a traffic signal at Clarkview Road. An exclusive left turn lane will also be created to provide safer access to the Bluestem development. The Bluestem parking lot will also provide additional safe, convenient parking for park-goers and an access gate to the park will be installed at the back-end of the Bluestem property to facilitate access to Lake Roland’s “Orange” trail.
There has been talk, both in the city and the county, of “needing more parks.” But, there are already a plethora of parks in Baltimore City and Baltimore County, and Lake Roland park in particular offers a bounty of amenities and opportunities to those in the Bare Hills community and beyond. The focus should not be solely on the development of new parks and recreational spaces, but rather on the optimization of parks that are already well-established within their respective communities. By thoughtfully developing infrastructure that creates safer access points and parking areas for Lake Roland park, park-goers can continue to explore and enjoy a unique and well-loved green space.